CJ editor: Trip spotlights how humanitarian crisis at border drives violence, drugs in NC
North Carolina consistently ranks within the top 10 states for human trafficking. According to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) have also focused their operations in concentrated areas of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
According to a DEA report, eight counties in North Carolina serve as distribution centers for “powder cocaine, ice methamphetamine, commercial-grade marijuana, and, increasingly, Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin…. I-40 provides Mexican traffickers with a direct route from drug transit areas in Barstow, California, through Flagstaff, Arizona; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Memphis, Tennessee, into Greensboro, Durham, and Raleigh, North Carolina.”
The impact of the crimes is hard to ignore. N.C. ranks 16th in the nation for the number of deaths by drug poisoning. I am seeing it in my own community; tragic overdoses in our local schools, an increase in addicts begging for help on street corners, and overwhelmed healthcare and law enforcement officials wrestling with the crisis daily. Just this fall, two N.C. drug busts turned up enough fentanyl to kill 3 million people, and investigators say the drugs moved through North Carolina from Mexico.
A trip to the border to see the crisis in person
Covering this crisis for several years, I had to hear about the chain of events for myself. I recently took the opportunity to visit the U.S.-Mexico border town of McAllen, Texas, in a trip organized by Americans for Prosperity, to meet with border agents and learn more about the generational crisis that they see every day.
They shared a few stats that caught my attention:
2,000 people per day attempt to cross the border into the United States from Mexico.
In 2023, there is a 1,000% increase in the number of Chinese nationals crossing illegally at the southern border.
Border agents spend 75% of their work time providing humanitarian relief, like feeding people, setting broken bones, and delivering babies.
There are more police officers in 3.6 square miles of New York City than border patrol agents on the 1,954-mile southern border
The federal government has lost track of more than 85,000 children who have entered the United States without a guardian since 2021.
The “wall” is not on the border; it is a mile or more into U.S. territory, often on private land.
Lawmakers, local media, and activists joined this fact-finding trip. Once there, we met up with similar groups from Nevada and Utah, all with the same goal. Cut through the political noise and see what’s really happening and what can be done to stop it.
McAllen itself is a clean, friendly town with the same shopping, schools, and prosperity that we see in N.C. However, just a few miles outside of town, border agents are processing about 1,000 illegal migrants each day in an almost DMV-like system. People crossing here have generally encountered tremendous trauma, crime, and violence and turn themselves in immediately after crossing the border. One agent said he would sometimes stop off to use the bathroom on his route and return to his truck to find people sitting in the back, ready to surrender.
Agents say the sheer volume of people surrendering every day is funding the drug cartels and clearing the path for them to traffic those drugs over the border as agents are focused on tending to people’s immediate needs.
While we were there, about 2,000 illegal migrants turned themselves into border agents in Brownsville, about 45 minutes up the road, and claimed asylum. However, most asylum claims do not meet U.S. legal requirements. To qualify, asylum claims must be that they face persecution for their race, religion, or political viewpoint. Fear of crime, violence, or seeking a better opportunity does not qualify. Yet, groups in Central and South America are telling migrants otherwise and sending them on a perilous journey. One young mother we spoke to said she would never have brought her children or even attempted the trip if she’d known what they would experience.
Once agents have illegal migrants in custody, they attend to their most critical needs first, like food, water, and medical care, and assign them a colored wristband. Within 72 hours, migrants get a “notice to appear” or a court date to return for a hearing. From there, people are free to travel within the U.S. Each person’s “sponsor,” often a U.S.-based family member, pays for the migrant’s travel to their destination. However, our group was approached several times by people asking for bus fare.
At the Catholic Charities respite center in McAllen, which provides families with food, over-the-counter medicine, and a place to sit or sleep while they are waiting for their paperwork, there were about 400 migrants there, from infants to elderly. Still, volunteers said they sometimes serve about 1,800 people a day.
Outmanned and outgunned
While border agents were careful not to deliver a politically charged opinion to our group, they were clear that the number of people coming across the border illegally daily is overwhelming their available resources. They are vastly outnumbered and outgunned by drug cartels that control the border, charging vulnerable people thousands of dollars for permission to cross.
In a system with military-like precision, there is a cartel sentinel every half-mile along the Rio Grande River with a cell phone monitoring who crosses. The cartels know how long it takes for agents to leave their posts and process illegal crossers. They use that window of time to move drugs across the border. We visited one of those drug crossing points and spoke with the landowner who runs a water processing station. He told us he had to put bars across the water intake to catch dead bodies that could flow into the water station valves.
But even those who survive the journey are in crisis. As I looked around the room at Catholic Charities, I saw dozens of children, each on an unknown path, likely to be a “dreamer” down the road. Inaction on our southern border is creating another generation of adults brought to this country illegally as children. In 2022, 130,000 unaccompanied minors entered the U.S., triple the number since 2017. DHHS reports that the Biden administration has rushed vetting sponsors for the minors to avoid the image of children being held for processing.
This is a humanitarian crisis. History will judge this time in America and how we handled it. While states across the country have contributed support through extra National Guard troops, the Biden administration has politicized and largely neglected this crisis.
Which way from here?
In the near term, the U.S. border patrol needs help. They need more agents and agencies to help with processing to get back to what they were hired to do in this century-old law enforcement agency. Better and more technology needs to be funded and deployed to push cartels back. While the wall is still on American soil, it guides people to entry points, slows the trafficking of drugs, and provides a base for better surveillance technology. Starting under the G.W. Bush administration, the wall construction was continued under Obama, accelerated under Trump, and stopped by Biden. Texas Gov. Abbott has picked up and continued the project at Texas taxpayers’ expense, although border security is a federal responsibility.
Reforming the U.S. guest worker program is another critical piece of this puzzle. One reason people rush to enter illegally is because they simply don’t see where the line is to enter legally. It takes years, decades even, to apply through legal channels, and it is highly regulated and expensive for American companies to sponsor guest workers.
In the longer term, the United States should view capitalism and liberty as our greatest export. The human tragedy unfolding at our southern border will not stop as long as others live under the regimes of violent cartels and socialism. Rooting out corruption and sharing our belief in liberty, human rights, freedom to work, freedom from fear, and the promise of economic prosperity will help ensure that those who want to come to the United States will do so to contribute, not because they are fleeing.
The promise of America has been a beacon, calling for those seeking a better life. How we handle this humanitarian crisis will be our generation’s legacy.